Monday, December 31, 2007

God versus Darwin: What is the best predictor of belief in evolution? I guessed education, but I was wrong. The General Social Survey asked a representative sample of Americans in 2006 whether the idea that humans evolved from earlier animals is true or false. Only 49.6% said true. Here is the list of predictors I included in a multivariate model, and the standardized OLS coefficients. (I know, I know--my dependent variable should be normally distributed when estimating OLS coefficients, but the technique is robust enough to handle a dichotomous variable that is evenly distributed between the two categories).

Belief in evolution (standardized OLS regression coefficients)

Age -.07
Sex -.08
Race -.01*
Years of education .17
IQ .14
Informed about sci/tech .07
Liberal politics .14
Church attendance -.34

R-squared .29
Number of valid cases 737

* not significant at .05 level, two-tailed test

Except for race (black v. white) all the effects are statistically significant. Men and younger people are more likely to accept evolution, but the tendency is slight. Being more educated, smarter, or saying that you are informed about science and technology is not particularly predictive--at least not more than being liberal.

It turns out that the bigger winner is religiosity--as church attendance increases, so does skepticism about evolution. Seventy-two percent of people who never go to church believe we evolved from earlier animals: the number for those who attend more than weekly is only 13%! God and Darwin may not necessarily be logically incompatible, but there is a clear sociological divide.


Peter said...

Seventy-two percent of people who never go to church believe we evolved from earlier animals: the number for those who attend more than weekly is only 13%!

I wouldn't be surprised if the percentage among Protestants is even lower. Some devout Catholics attend Mass more than once a week, and Catholic doctrine has no trouble with accepting evolution. So at least some of the 13% are Catholics, quite possibly most of them.

Ron Guhname said...

peter: Good point. I looked, and 40% of Catholics who attend more than once a week accept evolution, compared to only 9%(!) of Protestants. (Warning: there are only 10 cases of Catholics who go that often).

Anonymous said...

If someone were to find a buried city in some exotic part of the world that was outside the middle east that predated ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt by four or five thousand years, then alot more people would question the biblical accounts of early man.

But thats just the thing. Real history seems to back up the belief that humans dispersed from the middle east and not Europe or North America or East Asia, giving crecedence to the Biblical account. The oldest settlements and towns (like Catal Huyuk in Turkey, Jarma in Iran, Jericho in Israel, Ur and cities in the fertile crescent in Iraq) are in "biblical territory" where the bible took place.

If we evolved from monkeys as we seemingly should have (98% or so DNA match with bonoboos and stuptailed macaques), would we not have first been in civilized evidence in those places where those little guys are (Africa, Southeast Asia, East Asia, South America) instead of Turkey, Israel, Mesopotamia where to my knowledge they have not been?

Jericho is supposed to be the "world's oldest city" and its dated only to roughly 10,000 BC at its base. Catal Huyuk dates to something like 7500 BC. Malta (and its truly astounding ruins) supposedly date from around this time also. I dont think there is any evidence that monkeys were on Malta in past either. If we slowly evolved out of apes and left Africa 70,000 years ago......................shouldn't their be any "settlements" under the sands of the Sahara that would date from say............30,000 years ago? Why do we never find such things?

Where is a 25,000 year old city in South America that predates any biblical account? There are apes there and there always has been. If something like this gets found in say...........China, it might dissuade many from believing in man's "creation" and believe he slowly evolved because it would put modern man's origins outside the middle east and in a place where there are other primates. But we get the earliest evidence of man in a place with no monkeys and apes (a desert basically, fed by irrigation and rivers running through it with no jungle around). It lends crecedence to the biblical account regardless of how old carbon 14 dating claims the earth is. Henceforth, many will reject evolution.

A few good transitional fossils (and I mean ten or so) of apes turning into men (we sure dont lack for dinasaur fossils do we) would also be helpful.

Until such evidences are found, lots of folks simply will not abandon their beleif in biblical literalism, even of the patriarchs.

The bible also has one other thing going for it that people overlook, but its huge and gigantic in its effect. Right and Wrong. People WANT to believe in a gentle loving God who favors man above animals and has made a heaven for people who are good and kind to one another, who is just, and loves babies, etc. People do not want to believe we are like the herds on the Serengetti plain where survival of the fittest (and often plain luck) determines who doesn't get eaten by lions pass on their genes in and endless Darwinian struggle to shape the existence of a species on earth. Old people especially, want to believe in a heaven in which they will be young again and live forever.

Science will have to come up with a damned impressive crowbar to make people give up beliefs like these in their private thoughts. I wouldn't hold my breath. Humanity will have religion around for a good while.

Anonymous said...

There are no apes in South America, except humans and those in zoos. There are monkeys, thought to have island-hopped from Africa when ocean levels were lower.

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